Where’s Our Free Market Farm-Only Farm Bill?

July 15, 2013

By Christine Harbin Hanson

This past week, the House of Representatives passed a “farm-only Farm Bill” with a 216-208 vote.  This was a split version of the Farm Bill—it included farm programs, but not food stamp programs. AFP applauds the House for breaking the unholy alliance of farm programs and food stamps, but we’re disappointed that Representatives failed to take the next step by seeking meaningful reforms to farm programs.

Splitting the Farm Bill is a means to improved farm policy—not an end in itself. By considering food programs and farm programs separately, Congress can evaluate each on its own merits without being distracted by the other. No longer would lawmakers roll these parts together in order to shield them from reforms and fast-track them into law.   It could take the time to make badly-needed reforms to crop insurance premium subsidies, commodity price supports, and all the other bad programs in the bill.

So, why didn’t splitting the bill lead to reform? Where’s our free-market farm-only Farm Bill? The answer is that House procedure got in the way—the rule adopted for the bill prohibited Representatives from offering any amendments to it.

The unfortunate result of the rule was legislation that extends and expands the broken farm programs found in the Farm Bill, failing to make any free market reforms. This bill spends $196 billion over the next decade on corporate welfare, which is $196 billion too much. It makes no cuts in the realistic, absolute sense; the federal government will spend more on farm programs next year than it is this year.  Although the bill does repeal the direct payment program for most commodity producers (except for cotton producers), it replaces it with a revenue guarantee program called “Shallow Loss” that will cost even more. It also extends and dramatically expands crop insurance premium subsidies, as well as a myriad other problems.

In many ways, this bill is even worse than the full Farm Bill that the House rejected last month.  Although it repeals “permanent law”—agricultural law dating from the 1930s that’s out-of-sync with the modern-day agricultural market, kicking in when current farm programs expire—this bill would become the new permanent law. It eliminates sunset provisions for many farm programs, such as the broken sugar subsidy program, meaning they continue indefinitely without reauthorization or reevaluation by Congress.

When the vote on final passage came up this past Thursday, only 12 Republicans stood up for limited government by voting against the bill. Disappointingly, other 216 other Republicans cast a vote in favor of corporate welfare programs that raise food prices, increase taxes, and expand the size and scope of government. House Democrats voted against the bill because it excluded a nutrition title.  (Important side note: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s claim that the bill would take “food out of the mouths of babies,” is misguided and false—food stamp spending would be unaffected by the farm-only Farm Bill. Food stamps are a type of mandatory spending, meaning that it’s required by existing law and Congress doesn’t have to reauthorize it.)

What’s next for the Farm Bill? Will Congress use this farm-only Farm Bill to get to conference with the big, bloated Senate-passed version? Will the House pass a bill that deals only with food stamps? Will Congress bring food stamps and farm programs back together in conference? Stay tuned to AFP as the Farm Bill saga unfolds.

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